Sue de Beer
Harry Dodge & Stanya Kahn
Luis Gispert & Jeffrey Reed
Erik van Lieshout
Stephen G. Rhodes
Ryan Trecartin & Lizzie Fitch
What’s in a corpse? Well, food, of course. At the end of Satyricon, the Roman novel that might have been written by Nero’s arbiter elegantiae, or fashion advisor, the will of an old man who has died and who might have left a vast fortune is read to a group of fortune hunters. In order to have access to his wealth, they are told, they have to eat his dead body. In Fellini’s Satyricon, this ending of the book, which is extant only in fragments, is quite a prominent scene. Some of those seeking the inheritance actually feast on the body. They get to stay and take part in the wealth left behind. Their long search by ship, conjuring up Odysseus’s search for a return home, is over. The others, however, repulsed by the idea, and thinking that it might also be a ruse to deliberately subject them to ridicule and shame, get back on the ship and continue their journey, probably destined to arrive nowhere.
Of course, it was Freud who framed the notion of the “eating of the Father,” of the One who has access to all the wealth (and women) within the larger picture of the birth and psychic structure of culture. Throughout his work and life, Freud insisted that this was not a theoretical hypothesis, but rather an event which had necessarily taken place and which was a fact of history, or rather, of the beginning of history. It was this insistence on there having been the ONE—the one that had it all, the omnipotent One of which the sons partook by killing and eating him so as to find access to at least a part of the immense and incalculable enjoyment and pleasure that the ONE had claimed as his own—which prompted Lacan to call this concept “Freud’s dream.” He thus suggested that we need to analyze this as a phantasm or wish aimed at covering up the real contingency of culture, its lack of support even in the dead father.
John Miller’s work The Corpse prompts us to recreate and revisit all of these references, but only as a starting point. The unassuming “cake,” cut into proper servings, is made out of plastic, just as, on the symbolic level, the products of our labor—and those of nature, too, and of civilization and of the commandment to “cultivate/master the land”—are plastic fruits as well, fetishistic already in their inability to ever become imperfect or decay. Of course, one could try to eat this cake—but one would be forced to have it, too. No one could be satisfied by these signifiers of perfection, and no one would be able to end his or her never-ending search for a home, for closure, or for a place by participating in this ONE. Materially, Miller’s “corpse-cake” transforms the Christian Eucharist and the culture it signifies from an almost empty “manna” into the promise of rich, sweet satisfaction. However, in doing so, he moves, as it were, beyond Freud; he analyzes Freud’s dream, and thus arrives right at the heart of today’s subjectivity. The substance, of which pieces seem available, is always already cut up. There is no ONE to kill. There never was and there is not now. It is always dead and already cut up. And as Miller shows us, what we are left with are pieces mirrored in mirrors, like the sides of the “slices” that one can eat. These pieces are us. By consuming the pieces of the cake—the fetishist commodities which are all that is left of the “Father”—we thus turn into them. Miller’s laconic diagnosis shows us that what we, culturally, can eat, is what we get: narcissistic enclosure into the mirrors or our own image, mirrors that look back at us from everywhere, even—and especially—in any attempt to gain a foothold in and through “culture.” This is one of the effects, the masturbatory sexuality and romantic search for intimacy on the internet launched from the all-encompassing periphery of each individual’s personal diaspora, something with which Miller also confronted us in the “Personals” pictures shown alongside The Corpse at the Metro Pictures gallery in New York.
Lives and works in New York and Berlin
|2004||493 KB from the Administered World, Jeffrey Charles Gallery, London|
|2003||A Mutually Beneficial Encounter, Galerie Christian Nagel, Köln|
|2001||Double Date, Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin|
|1999||Parallel Economies, (touring) Le Magasin, Centre National d’Art Contemporain de Grenoble, France; Kunstverein Hamburg|
|1992||Rock Sucks Disco Sucks, DAAD-Galerie, Berlin, Bruno Brunnet Fine Arts, Berlin|
|2006||Tomorrowland: CalArts in Moving Pictures, Museum of Modern Art, New York|
|2005||Expérience de la durée, 8ème Biennale d’Art Contemporain de Lyon, France|
|2003||Candy Factory Projects: Boogie-Woogie Wonderland, Akiyoshidai International Art Village, Yamaguchi, Japan|
|1996||Artistes & Photographies: Bruce Nauman, Ed Ruscha, John Miller, Xavier Veilhan, Hors scène #2, Cabinet des Estampes, Geneva, Switzerland|
|1993||The Abject: Repulsion and Desire in American Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York|
Branden W. Joseph, “Informationsavatare,” in: Texte zur Kunst, vol. 16, no. 64 (December 2006).
Liam Gillick, “Do Ammonia Gas Frozen Fries Go With That Shake?” in: Art Monthly, no. 249 (September 2001).
Barbara Hess, “Artists & Photographs: Kunstbüro,” in: Camera Austria International, nos. 59/60 (November 1997).
Hal Foster, “Obscene, Abject, Traumatic,” in: October, no. 78 (Fall 1996).
Dennis Cooper, “John Miller: Metro Pictures,” in: Artforum, no.10 (June 1988).